Is computing not making the progress it used to, or did I just read a story about Microsofts Internet Explorer losing a tiny bit of its overwhelming market share? I thought wed gotten this browser thing down several years ago and had moved on. Apparently, I was mistaken.
So here I am doing something I havent done in a long time: Looking at a new browser, in this case the pre-release version of Mozilla Firefox. And its a heck of a nice browser, though I wonder if after years of looking at IE whether anything new and different wouldnt seem exciting to me. If all you have is vanilla, any new flavor would seem to be a tremendous improvement.
One reason to like Firefox is that it sports a very clean user interface. That is, it lacks all the things, like the Google, SnagIt, and Adobe Acrobat toolbars Ive added to IE. It also lacks—and doesnt seem to have available—a spelling checker. The ieSpell add-on has saved me tremendous embarrassment when writing things online. Nor does there seem to be anything like the automatic form-filler, with password security for credit card numbers, which the Google Toolbar offers. I wont go shopping without it.
Remove all that stuff and IE would have a cleaner user interface, too. Not as clean or even as pretty as Firefox, but still simpler than what I am used to. Of course, it would also have lost a tremendous amount of functionality Ive come to use every day.
I thought Firefox had finally gotten "the printing thing" right, which would be actually printing web pages so they look okay when spread across several (vertical) pages. Ive never liked how IE handles printing, usually cutting off the right edges of wide pages.
Firefox solved that problem by shrinking pages to fit, but became confused by some of the pages I asked it to print. So I am back to using Adobe Acrobat to print my Web pages from IE, something I do more often than I like to admit.
Mozilla partisans, who have a good reason to love their creation, will point out that their volunteer, open-source developer community can solve the problems Ive mentioned. Likewise, I expect to, before the end of the day, get an e-mail from someone at Microsoft telling me about all the things Firefox doesnt do.
Competition is good and has doubtless already energized Microsoft to put out a much better version of IE in its next release than might have happened otherwise. Even if you dont ever touch Firefox, the world will be a better place for it.
I am not really able to assess Mozillas claims that Firefox is a more secure browser than IE. It would be hard for that not to be the case, but it should be mentioned that all the worlds hackers arent lined up against Firefox as they are against all-things-Microsoft.
If you download all the fixes and run the necessary security apps, IE isnt such a problem. Some might even point out that switching to Firefox could been seen as giving in to anti-Microsoft technology terrorism. But how much should customers be asked to do to "support" Microsoft? Not more than they have already done, I think.
Firefox does offer tabbed browsing, a nice user interface trick, and uses Google as its native search facility, as does Apples Safari browser. Firefox is also RSS savvy, though handling blog and news feeds ought to be a task for the mail client, not the browser.
I cant think of a very good reason for people who are, for whatever reason, unhappy with IE not to use Firefox. And if it makes you feel better to make some sort of an anti-Microsoft statement through browsing, go for it.
Right now, I cant use Firefox for all my browsing. But I like Firefox too much to remove it from my computer. Given some additional development and more add-ons, Firefox could become my browser of choice. Its a very nice piece of software and if Microsoft doesnt respond Redmond will deserve the declining market share it faces.
Firefox is making the world a better place.
Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. Before joining eWEEK.com, David was executive editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk and has been a columnist for PC World, ComputerWorld and other publications. Former executive producer of DEMO and other industry events, he also operates a technology consulting and event management business. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site (www.coursey.com).